Iain Sinclair on Winfried Sebald

The Guardian has recently published an article in which James Wood, Iain Sinclair, Robert Mcfarlane and Will Self reflect upon what WG Sebald and his works have meant to them. Sebald, widely acknowledged as one of the most influental writers of the twentieth century, prematurely died in a car crash in 2001.

The full article can be read in The Guardian website, while here we report only Iain’s contribuition.

“I only set eyes on Max Sebald one time. We shared a descending lift in Broadcasting House, pressed back into our safe corners, silent. He impersonated what I took him to be – writer, walker, culturally burdened European – so beautifully that I wondered if this was an actor, a hireling. I had been reading in one of the broadsheets that morning how Sebald had agreed to give only one interview to publicise his latest project. Now the PR minder sent along by his publisher was running through the programme of the day’s events: more radio, coffee conversations, lunch interrogations, readings.

One of the elements that drew me to Sebald was his interest, so elegantly glancing and oblique, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau, with his Confessions, his furious pedestrian surges across Paris, his long tramps out in the territory, arguing with memory, fixing the sins of the past, provided the quotation with which I launched my first book in 1970. “My thoughts were calm and peaceful; they were not heavenly or ecstatic. Objects caught my eye. I observed the different landscapes I passed through, I noticed the trees, the houses, and the streams. I deliberated at crossroads. I was afraid of getting lost, but did not lose myself even once. In a word, I was no longer in the clouds. Sometimes I was where I was, sometimes already at my destination, but never did I soar off into the distance.”

From the start then, Rousseau catches the elusive essence of Sebaldian dogma: which is to be both elusive and precise, documentary and fabulous. Under the gravity of that silvered moustache, he was more English than the English, more alien.”

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